By Annabelle Liang
“It’s been about four years since we have been back here in Hong Kong and I must say, we have missed you guys so much!”
The statement from Blackpink’s Rosé to the 14,000 fans packing out AsiaWorld-Arena is greeted by rapturous cheers.
The K-pop superstars – Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa – have been on their Born Pink world tour since October.
Fan Charlotte Hofstetter didn’t hesitate to travel from Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand in January to catch them on stage.
“My friends and I had a front row view of the stage, so we were able to see them really up close,” she told the BBC.
When pandemic restrictions were in place, Charlotte followed updates about the band on social media and even attended one of the group’s virtual concerts.
“I was excited for live concerts,” she says. “It was the first stop in the Asian leg of their tour and Lisa’s hometown, so it was a special place to be.”
Under the spotlights it may feel like the pandemic is finally behind the group. But tours of this kind are still extremely vulnerable to Covid, says Jeung Chi Young from their management company, YG Entertainment.
For this reason, the 100 or so staff who travel from city to city with the stars are routinely tested for the virus. They are also restricted to accommodation and concert venues.
“We took measures to minimise the movement of staff,” Mr Jeung told the BBC.
“If any one of the artists or staff is infected with Covid-19, the overall tour could be [in a] fatal situation.”
Blackpink are just one of the major acts to return to touring across Asia, as countries in the region ease Covid-19 controls. Some Asian nations had some of the strictest coronavirus measures in the world.
The group started the tour in Seoul, the capital of their home country, and have since performed in the UK, mainland Europe and the US. They are now playing to packed stadiums in Asia.
Mr Jeung says the group had planned to tour the region earlier but ended up editing their schedule.
“As the easing of Covid regulations in Asian countries were expected to be the slowest, the Asian countries were placed last on the tour. We believe that was an accurate anticipation.”
Many countries in Asia have lagged behind Western nations with easing Covid restrictions. China, for example, only reopened its borders to international visitors this year.
When K-pop group BTS performed in South Korea last year, fans had to wear masks and were not allowed to chant or shout. They were instead asked to clap and “groove while seated”. Those restrictions have now been lifted.
This year alone, Western acts including Harry Styles, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sting have toured in the Asia Pacific region.
Entertainment giant Live Nation, which runs live events and also manages ticket sales, says Asia took around a year longer than other parts of the world to bring back big shows.
“In most Asian markets, festivals and arena shows are back to normal as we opened the doors cautiously and carefully,” Roger Field, the firm’s Asia Pacific president, told the BBC.
“As soon as border restrictions eased, we saw a surge in both local and regional fans return in healthy numbers to live shows. We expect continued growth across the region in 2023.”
Covid remains a major concern for performers, Tim Chambers, a ticketing and live entertainment adviser, told the BBC.
“There is a heightened awareness of the need to insulate artists and touring crews, with regular testing and improved hygiene whilst travelling, backstage or performing,” Mr Chambers says.
“Because of Covid, health insurance is problematic, and event cancellation insurance is increasingly restricted or not available.”
Mr Jeung says Blackpink used concerts in South Korea before the tour as a testbed for its contingency plans, and were able to “learn much information about the impact of the absence of an individual due to Covid-19 during the concert, and how to deal with it”.
“As a consequence, we started the tour in a situation where we could quickly respond to any situation by securing alternative personnel for every staff… so the tour has been carried out without any problems until now,” he adds.
Fans are celebrating the return of their favourite superstars.
Parthiban Murugaiyan, whose firm is organising Indian singer and producer Anirudh’s concert in Singapore, says it managed to sell all 12,000 tickets in two days.
“The reception to Anirudh’s concert here has been overwhelming and way beyond our expectations,” Mr Murugaiyan says.
“Singapore has never seen such a big crowd coming together for any Indian concert. There are many overseas fans travelling to Singapore just for this.”